West Midlands MPs have paid tribute to Michael Foot, the former Labour leader, who died yesterday aged 96.
Lynne Jones (Lab Selly Oak) said she had been inspired by Mr Foot as a party activist and councillor, when she heard him speak in Birmingham during the 1983 election campaign. She went on to become an MP nine years later.
She said: “He was somebody who cared and had deep-rooted principles. I remember him coming to Selly Oak during the 1983 election. He spoke at a packed public meeting in a church.
“He was a great orator and was very well received.”
Mr Foot became leader of the Labour Party in 1980, taking over from former Prime Minister James Callaghan following an election loss which had placed Conservative Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street.
Callaghan’s Government had been through the “winter of discontent”, when unions held a succession of strikes in protest at his attempts to limit pay rises.
Morale in the party was low, and Labour was deeply divided between right-wingers and a left-wing faction led by Tony Benn.
In 1981, a number of senior figures on the right walked out on the party to form the breakway SDP.
Mr Foot led Labour into only one election, in 1983, when the Tories won a landslide victory. As a result, history has not been kind to him and he is sometimes regarded as a poor leader.
But Dr Jones said: “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Everything changed overnight because of the Falklands War in 1982.
“Before that, Margaret Thatcher had been deeply unpopular. Then the Falklands happened and she could do no wrong.
“In those circumstances, it would have been hard for any Labour leader. I hope he will get more credit for his accomplishments in future.”
Clare Short (Ind Ladywood) said: “He reminds of what are missing in politics today; a man of deep integrity and kindness, full of passionate ideas, intelligent and thoughtful.”
She added: “He was a lovely man, a very fine politician and we need more people like him again if we are to rescue British politics.”
Fellow MP Steve McCabe (Lab Hall Green) said: “He was a decent and cultured man who led the Labour Party at one of his most difficult periods.”
John Spellar (Lab Warley) said: “He was the most decent man in post-war politics. I disagreed with him often, but he was always motivated by principle and compassion.”
And Richard Burden (Lab Northfield) said: “He wanted to make the world a more peaceful place. Sadly you don’t hear that so much in politics today.”
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a personal friend of the former Labour leader, said: “Michael Foot was a genuine British radical - one who possessed a powerful sense of community, a pride in our progressive past and faith in our country’s potential for a radical future.”
Conservative Party leader David Cameron said: “He was a very intelligent, witty, amusing and thoughtful man.”